LEADERS - not followers

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fourth Millennium (13)


8 The One That Got Away (Cont)

In his weakened condition that only offered him brief moments of consciousness, Marc not only survived, but realised, once he’d managed to convince himself he was not hallucinating, that the violent turbulence he’d endured for several weeks, had miraculously come to an end. It wasn’t, however, until a further six hours had elapsed, and the sensations of turbulence within his own body, that mirrored the hostile phenomenon, had eased, that he was able to leave the confines of his casket. For the first time in his life, and despite the uncontrollable trembling that hampered his progress, he viewed what had remained hidden behind the ‘Ring’ for over a century; the ‘other side’ of the world.
The sudden return to natural light; in fact dazzlingly bright sunshine was the greatest challenge so far posed to the effectiveness of his artificial eyes. The loss of the boat’s power source had disabled the sun visor tinting feature of the vessel’s viewing panels, allowing the blinding brilliance, free access to the interior of the forward observation post. In response, Marc pulled his tunic up around his head and closed his eyes, re-introducing them to the light, in slow, uncomfortable stages.
He’d been neither hallucinating nor dreaming; the sea was dead calm. It spread before him in a perfectly flat expanse of blue, while behind him’ a kilometre or more away, the ‘Ring’ lurked threateningly.
The ecstatic sense of pure relief this brought to him, drew reserves of strength and belief from somewhere within, that renewed his optimism, and took his mind, temporarily, off his fragile condition. He was able to gain access to his main supply of fresh drinking water, on which he continued to survive until he sighted land.
The calm waters of the deep ocean were replaced by the roll and bounce of the tidal, coastal swell. A strange and discomforting sense of déjà vu threatened to unbalance his sensibilities further, as he relived, momentarily, the experiences of the ‘Ring’. When he recovered his coordination sufficiently to realise, in the fading light of evening, that conditions were of a much tamer nature than previously, he was only a few hundred metres from the shore. The tide was drawing him closer to the treacherous cliffs that lay between him and relative safety. He had no idea of where he was, but could not rule out the possibility that he had achieved the impossible, and actually crossed to the far side of the ‘Ring’.
A million questions entered his head, but one in particular, returned repeatedly, to dominate his thoughts.
Were the natives hostile?
The question of whether or not he had been spotted, seemed irrelevant; unable as he was, to make any attempt to escape. His only hope, he felt, was if he could make it ashore, he would have to somehow conceal the boat and lie apparently stranded, on the beach, until someone found him. They could draw their own conclusions about his fate, from his emaciated, bedraggled appearance.
The boat was battered against the cliffs, time after time, before the surge of the tide carried it into a fissure in the rocks, where it came to rest in a pool, inside the cavern that had been formed.
When nobody came to visit the short stretch of beach in the cove, the following morning, Marc assumed that fortune had guided him to an unpopulated region. The four hundred metre trudge through the soft silvery sand, all but depleted his final reserves of energy. Scrambling over the rocks, in a desperate bid to locate a source of water, food and much needed medical attention was an effort of immense, strength sapping proportion.
Although public access to the coast, throughout the Nation, was ‘officially’ forbidden and physically restricted, the sea itself provided a source of food that the Nation was keen to harvest, in order to nourish its citizens. Fish were kept and bred in immense farms that stretched for thousands of kilometres, around much of the coastline. Countless sheets of Carbolite mesh had been submerged and arranged to form football field sized caged areas, containing every edible species of vegetation, crustacean, and shell, as well as fish. Birds and aquatic mammals also formed part of the project, which was staffed by the ‘Aquacultural Labourers’, who lived, separated from the ‘Riff Raff’, in the single-storey, low-level complexes that extended from the narrow walkways, surrounding the caged areas.
The labourer who found Marc, lying panting and exhausted, on the narrow stretch of sand close to the access pier to the farm, assumed by his unfamiliar clothing that he was a labourer from a neighbouring farm, who had fallen into the sea and been swept by the tide, to be washed ashore, close to her section. She raised the alarm, and Marc was dragged to safety, before being transferred to a medical centre within the Sector. Marc had no recollection of the events that followed, but regained consciousness some days later, hooked up to a drip and wired to a monitor that recorded the various functions of his brain and vital organs.
Marc could gauge from his relatively primitive surroundings, and his unfamiliarity with the instruments to which he was attached, that he hadn’t come ashore in St. George. This left only one improbable explanation; he had indeed, beaten all the odds, and become the first Georgian to set foot on, or even, see the Nation, in a century, or more.
The main thing was, he felt, remarkably, no lingering effects of his horrific ordeal.
Inevitably, no sooner had he displayed the first signs of consciousness in almost a week, than the questions regarding his identity and details of residence, began. These questions, although intended purely for his own benefit, were ‘official’ responsibilities, and as such were asked by uniformed ‘Service Personnel’. Unaware of any aspects of ‘official’ procedures in the Nation, Marc decided that a plea of ignorance would be his best course of action, and to each question, he provided the same answer;
“I don’t remember.”
As time passed and the questions continued, he realised he wasn’t going to be allowed to leave the hospital, without satisfactory answers. He didn’t want to reveal his real name; for fear that this might lead to the revelation of his origin, and had to devise an appropriate alternative.
It had been explained to him, in an attempt to jog his memory, that he could only possibly have come from one of the many fish farms in the vicinity, which meant that his family name should also represent a species of fish, but that he should also have an ID number with a Sector prefix of seven digits.
Over the course of a few days, he ‘remembered’, gradually, that his name was Carp…something; a corruption of his real family name; Carpenter. He was also able to tell the ‘Service’ men that both of his parents had died, fairly recently…he thought, and that he had no brothers or sisters.
This was all his inquisitors needed to know. Within forty eight hours, they returned to inform Marc that they were satisfied with the validity of his identity, but that as he continued to appear to be suffering the effects of his trauma, they would have to relocate him to a private residence within the Sector, and issue him with a new ID number, in order to distinguish him as a Sector resident and not an Aquacultural labourer. The fact that he was unable to remember his previous ID number was no longer significant.
A simple solution to a potentially frustrating problem for the ‘authorities’. If anybody ‘misplaced’ or even genuinely forgot their identity, merely issue them with an alternative, thus eliminating the time consuming and potentially expensive inconvenience of genuine investigation. As long as a person could be identified, the only consideration was the actual ID number, and as long as it didn’t clash with another, it would serve its purpose.
The fine print meant nothing to Marc, who was relieved that he was finally going to regain his liberty…whatever that might mean. He only hoped that it meant that he would be left alone, and perhaps, in time, find a way of returning to St. George.
At his new home, in Sector 747, Marc continued his charade of ‘memory loss’, in order to maintain a low profile, and avoid further questions from inquisitive neighbours. He maintained his masquerade until he got to know people better, and determine whether or not he could actually place his trust in anyone.
Over the years that ensued, he would put his valuation of his perceived dependability of certain people, to the test. He began by telling selected ‘friends’ of certain ‘dreams’ he had experienced; of a place; he didn’t know where, or even if it actually existed, where none of the restrictions that applied to the Nation, were enforced. Unable to invent a suitable name for this ‘imaginary’ place, he referred to it simply as ‘There’ and to its inhabitants as ‘They’, or ‘Them’.
He had, unwittingly, given birth to a legend, or at least, revived one that certain Nationals had whispered amongst one another, since shortly after the time of the ‘Purges’.
Realising that access beyond the coastal defences; the wall, was now impossible for him, he resolved to wait, patiently, for as long as it might take, for a suitably qualified, and similarly ambitious person to come along and help him realise his real dream, of one day returning to his homeland of St. George.
In order to keep his dream alive, he decided to continue to tell his ‘stories’, of ‘They’, and ‘There’, at appropriate times, to people he believed may be able to influence the appropriate response.

Copyright © Stanislaw Skibinski

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